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Introducing Northern Group

For real Robinson Crusoes, the Northern Group is a dream destination - a sprinkling of tiny palm-covered islands and remote coral atolls scattered over a vast expanse of sea. It's here you'll find Cook Islands culture at its purest; daily life revolves around the twin forces of the weather and the tide, and family, history and traditional culture are all still highly valued.

But despite the idyllic setting, very few people make it to the islands of the Northern Group, and once you've consulted a few travel agents, you'll start to understand why. There's no getting around it - it takes time, effort and very deep pockets to travel this far north. You could buy a return flight to New Zealand for much less than the price of a flight to the Northern Group, and you certainly won't be staying in luxury accommodation - most people don't even have hot water in their houses, let alone a hot tub.

If you're serious about visiting the Northern Group, talk to people who know the islands to find out what you can expect. Each outer island has a hostel in Avarua on Rarotonga (most are near the National Culture Centre) and the hostel caretakers are excellent sources of information regarding their home islands.

To arrange accommodation (which you have to do before you can buy a ticket) talk to a travel agent or contact the relevant island councils.

But don't get too discouraged. The islands of the Northern Group are one of those truly unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime destinations, and practically everyone who's visited them comes back utterly bewitched. From the vast lagoons and black-pearl farms of Manihiki and Penrhyn to the isolated islands of Rakahanga and Pukapuka, the Northern Group represents an entirely different side of the Cook Islands - one that's just crying out to be explored.